Women of the East


There are so many things that I have achieved and want to achieve – I want to own a business, travel the world and earn a Ph.D., etc. My dreams are very possible. If I work hard and make the right financial decisions, I can accomplish them. I know I can because I have seen other women do it; the facilities/wherewithal is in place to help me accomplish my dreams, whatever they may be. This privilege is shared by almost every woman in the ‘west’. We can do whatever we want, we can move mountains if we so desire, albeit difficult, it can be done. For most women in the east, this privilege that ‘western’ women take for granted is only a dream, a dream that will never come through in their lifetime…

Before I go any further, let me clarify the term ‘east/west. Historically, the “Western culture/civilization/lifestyle, refers to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems that have some origin or association with Europe. The term applies to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration or influence. Since the 4th century, Western culture has been heavily influenced and shaped by Christianity”.

The Main values of Western culture have been derived from political thought, widespread employment of rational argument favoring free thought, assimilation of human rights, the need for equality, and democracy. To put it simply, ‘westerners believe each person has a right, a basic human right to do, be, or be involved in whatever they want. Christianity teaches love, respect, and acceptance for every living thing. A society heavily shaped by this religion would, therefore, share the same sentiments. The cultivation/development of social norms and accepted behavior is heavily influenced by religion. The west is influenced by Christianity, while some parts of the east are influenced/ shaped by the Islamic religion.

The Islamic religion is a religion that believes that there is only one God, that “God is exalted and far removed from every imperfection. Muslims believe God has given human beings free will. This means that they can choose right or wrong and that they are responsible for their choices.” “In Islam, it is prohibited to drink alcohol, use drugs, and all immoral conducts. It is also prohibited to eat the meat of pork, predators (animals and birds) and all dead animals.” Islam looks at the woman as an equal, mature, and capable partner of a man, without whom a family cannot exist, and teaches that men and women are all the creation of Allah, existing on a level of equal worth and value. In some societies, women are treated according to “ancestral customs” and “tribal tradition”.

 

The East… Geographically

The term ‘eastern world’ is defined by Wikipedia as “cultures of social structures and philosophical systems of Asia” Geographically, the east comprises:

  • Far East (Japan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, China etc)
  • East Asia (Taiwan)
  • South Asia (includes countries from the Indian Subcontinent e.g. Afghanistan, Bhutan, India etc.).
  • South East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Brunei etc.)
  • West Asia or Middle East (Includes United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Armenia, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman etc.)
  • Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan)
  • North Asia (aka Serbia),

Because of the expansion of the Islamic religion, the southern shores of the Mediterranean, i.e. North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan) are also regarded as ‘eastern’. In contrastingly, Asian nations with significant historical imprint and influence of European populations and tradition such as the Philippines, Israel, Cyprus (EU member since 2004) Armenia, and Turkey may be considered in part, as “western”

 The East… Ideologically

The east, in part, is shaped by a religion that sees both men and women being equal. It, based on its tenets and basic beliefs, is a religion that reveres God, prayer, and self-discipline. A religion that prohibits the consumption of drugs, and praises self-discipline, is a religion I would want to be a part of. However, the treatment of women in some Islamic countries leaves much to be desired as women are treated according to “ancestral customs” and “tribal tradition”, traditional customs that praise and endorses misogyny–“the hatred or dislike of women and girls”.

Misogyny is a word that was not originated in the east. It is believed that western philosophers were misogynistic. It is manifested as sexual discrimination, denigration of women, and violence against women. Misogyny is a term I didn’t know existed before now, I couldn’t fathom the idea that a term of such nature existed, regardless of my previous ignorance, misogyny in its most extreme form is alive and well and is the reality of countless women in the east esp. in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.

I get it that men are egotistic creatures, esp. Islamic men, who need to feel powerful and important, but what I don’t get is why the exertion of that power and the need to feel important would lead to the mistreatment and degradation of the gender that their own religion defines as being “equal”!

Women in the east have to encounter discrimination daily. As recently as February 2014, reports surfaced that a nine-month pregnant teenager (she is 19 with 3 kids already) was raped by seven men in Sudan. She was charged with adultery and prostitution and accused of having HIV, simply because she didn’t report the crime when it took place. Who could blame her for not reporting it, she knew exactly what would happen if she did, she would be re-victimized and blamed for something I’m sure she wished never happened… Acts similar to this, as heinous as they are, are everyday occurrences for women in the east… here is a breakdown of the countries most afflicted by misogyny…

Women in Sudan

In Sudan (both Arab and African), the suffering of women is not just done socially but enforced and supported by law. Article 152 of the Sudanese penal code implemented in 1991, states “that any conduct or clothing in violation of public decency is punished with 40 lashes”. The law targets women and is not specific about what constitutes clothing violations. As such, the Public Order Police are free to interpret and execute the law as they see fit.

Countless women have been arrested and publicly lashed for violating this code; the most prominent of them is Lubna Hussein. Hussein, along with 13 other women, were arrested and sentenced to ten lashes in July 2009 for wearing trousers. Hussein fought the sentence; she was eventually granted a presidential pardon but refused it, pushing for the removal of the article from law instead. Another popular case was that of Safia Ishaq. Safia Ishaq was gang-raped by 3 men in February 2012 for participating in a protest on January 2011. She was detained and beaten unconsciously when one officer tried removing her skirt and she tried to stop him. Her hands were tied with her scarf and she was raped. After her release, she spoke up about her incident, becoming the first Sudanese woman to do so. She was stigmatized and eventually had to leave Sudan.

Hussien and Ishaq are some of the few women who spoke up about being wrongfully treated, many cases similar to this–having to do with harassment, lashing and rape go unreported as women fear for their lives and fear being stigmatized and rejected by their community and families.

Article 152 is a repressive and discriminative law that turns my stomach, and I thought, it couldn’t get worst, but it does… because of female mutilation. Female genital mutilation is defined by WHO as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Genital mutilation is done by 90% of women in North Sudan and a small percent in the South. The act of female mutilation has been done as a ritual for thousands of years. There is a lot of pressure from society and older women for young women to undergo the procedure. However, many women who undergo the procedure said it was done to “satisfy their husbands”.

There are three types of female gender mutilation, Type I – the removal of the clitoral hood, Type II (clitoridectomy) – the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the prepuce and Type III (infibulations) – is the removal of all external genitalia and the fusing of the wound, leaving a small hole (2–3 mm) for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.

The act is barbaric, to say the least. The consequence of this practice leaves women with little or no ability to enjoy sex. The medical consequence of this practice is insurmountable, some of which include fatal bleeding, acute urinary retention, urinary infection, wound infection, septicemia, tetanus, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and the list goes on. Regardless of the consequences, 125 million women worldwide have undergone the procedure.

 

Women in Saudi Arabia

Customs and practices in Saudi Arabia are governed by the principles of the Sunni arm of the Islamic religion. The main tenets see the separation of women and men and include Namus (honor). Saudi Arabia is located in the Arabian Peninsula where patriarchy reigns supreme. Saudi laws differ from most; it is the only country in the world that prevents women from driving and voting (King Abdullah changed the law, making it possible for women to vote in 2015).

Saudi law is one of the most repressive in the world. The law “states that all females must have a male guardian”, be it a brother, husband, father, uncle, or even a son. Females are prevented from traveling, conducting official business, getting married/divorced, being employed, getting an education, and undergoing medical procedures without the permission of a male guardian. The male guardian has control over the civic and daily lives of the woman.

The idea of male guardianship derives from Namus, meaning honor. It is a characteristic of most patriarchal societies. Namus connotates modesty and respect. The Namus of a male includes the protection of females in his family, in turn; the woman’s honor reflects on him. He is expected to control the woman’s behavior, to protect his honor. If the woman’s honor is lost, he has lost control of her. If a man loses his honor because of a woman, he will want to cleanse his honor by punishing her. This punishment may be anything he deems suitable to restore his honor, even death. In 2007, a young woman was murdered by her father for chatting with a man on Facebook. Conservatives believed it was justified and called for the government to ban Facebook because it encouraged gender mingling (Facebook indeed kills).

The Saudi government declared that there is no law of guardianship. The world, looking in would say that women enjoy the same rights and privileges as men do, but that’s not the case, the repeal of the guardianship clause is just for show. Women are still prohibited from driving and are still the property and subordinate of the man. As late as July 2013, a hospital postponed amputating a critically injured woman’s hand because she had no legal male guardian to authorize the procedure.

Having my right to education, employment, and a driver’s license is a privilege and right I enjoy as a western woman and a member of a democratic society. I am very independent and cannot imagine those necessities being left to anyone, man or woman. I have come to know and enjoy civil liberties, of which some Saudi women have not. Some Saudi women believe that having a male guardian is their right, that it is an act of love and protection and their guardians know what is best for them, they frown on the idea of men and women being equals and demand that women activists demanding gender equality be punished….now, I’m no expert, but if you ask me, that belief is taking the submissive woman to a whole new level.

Not all Saudi women believe and are comfortable being “a piece of merchandise” for the man. Many such as Wajeha al-Huwaider and Manal al-Sharif are fighting for women to be treated with respect and as equals. The Women’s Right to Drive Campaign is a product of their beliefs.

Having a male guardian to do just about anything can be restrictive, to say the least, but there is more,… Saudi Arabia is a country that enforces gender (sex) segregation. Sexual/gender segregation keeps women from contact with men outside their family; it is originated from extreme concern for female purity and family honor. Social events are segregated. Women who are seen socializing with a man, not in their family, can be harassed or even charged with adultery, fornication, or prostitution. Most Saudi homes have two entrances, one for the man and the other for the woman. Traditional homes have high walls, and curtains, etc., to protect the women from the public. Restaurants are especially segregated as women have to remove their veils to eat, a woman is not supposed to be in public and seen by a man without her hijab (head covering), abaya (full black cloak) a niqab(face-veil). In 2008, a 75-year-old woman was sentenced to 40 lashes and imprisoned for allowing a man to deliver bread directly to her in her home.

I can go on and on about the atrocities that befall women in the east. The evils that women endure make my heart break. Just preparing for this post was extremely emotional. I had to take breaks because just reading about some things that mean to do women brought me to tears. I am just an outsider reading. Those women are living it every day, and most people just go on with their lives as if nothing is happening. I cannot do much for those women, I cannot change their customs of which some subject themselves, I cannot, although I wish I could prevent them from getting hurt. What I can do, however, is write about it hoping someone somewhere is reading and the life of even one woman is positively affected.

Slavery lasted for over 400 years, blacks were deemed less than whites, it was the law to treat blacks as animals, but because there were some people who refused to accept this, black people are free and enjoy the rights and privileges that all human beings should. If someone somewhere doesn’t do something, this freedom will not come to women in the east. They will forever be victimized and treated as properties for egotistic men and their dehumanizing customs and traditions.

It will take some time to change but we will get there by taking one step at a time. You’re doing your part by supporting the following:

  1. Donate to or get involved with Women for Women Internationalhttp://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/worldwide-initiatives-helping-women.php
  2. Join the US-Middle East Partnership Initiativehttp://mepi.state.gov/mepi/english-mepi/what-we-do/empowering-wome.html
  3. Support the My Body, My Rights Campaign by Amnesty International – https://campaigns.amnesty.org/campaigns/my-body-my-rights
  4. Support Glowork – http://www.glowork.net/ and help Saudi women find employment
  5. Support Ruwwardhttp://www.ruwwad.jo/en/Default.aspx  and help women in disadvantaged communities
  6. Support How Women Work – http://hwwqatar.com/  and help women in Qatar.
  7. Support women in Beirut at Women in Technology – http://www.wamda.com/2010/06/women-in-information-technology-wit-works-to-empower-women
  8. Support Give A Heart to Africa and help displaced women http://www.giveahearttoafrica.org/
  9. 9.      Support Women for Women in Africa and help Africa’s forgotten people www.womenforwomeninafrica.org.au/
  10. 10.  Support Heal Africa and help women affected by rape and HIV – www.healafrica.org

 

We all can make a change, it only starts with one step. 🙂

 

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_culture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misogyny http://www.islamicbulletin.org/newsletters/issue_24/beliefs.aspx
http://www.islam-guide.com/ch3-2.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_world
http://thinkafricapress.com/sudan/violence-against-women-and-sudans-article-152
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/
 

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